The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH
This case concerns the continued viability of provisions in the collective bargaining agreements between the plaintiff unions and the defendant employers which permit employees to take unpaid leaves of absence for union business without losing certain "fringe" benefits provided to other employees. The precise question is whether the provisions affecting employees on union leave violate section 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 186 (1982 & Supp. III 1985).
In these consolidated cases,
the Communications Workers of America ("CWA") and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("IBEW") Local 827 and Local 1844 have brought identical actions alleging breaches of collective bargaining agreements and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Each of these plaintiff unions has a long-standing collective bargaining relationship with the various defendant employers, all wholly owned subsidiaries of Bell Atlantic Corporation.
Defendants admit that, as of August 1, 1987, they will cease to comply with certain collective bargaining agreement provisions concerning employees on union leave. Defendants alert the Court that at the time these provisions were negotiated, defendants believed the provisions to be lawful. However, in light of a recent opinion in the Third Circuit, Trailways Lines, Inc. v. Trailways, Inc. Joint Council, 785 F.2d 101 (3d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 932, 107 S. Ct. 403, 93 L. Ed. 2d 356 (1986), defendants now conclude that benefits to employees on union leave are unlawful under section 302(a) of the LMRA.
The collective bargaining agreements between the plaintiff unions and the defendant employers contain generally similar provisions on leaves of absence for union business. Stipulation of Facts ("Stipulation") para. 7. Pursuant to the current agreements, the union may request a full-time leave of absence for an employee to perform union business. The employer will grant such a leave if service requirements permit the employee's absence from his or her job. Only a specified number of employees may be on leave for union business at any given time. The total cumulative period of union leave in a particular employee's career may not exceed eighteen years. Upon conclusion of the leave, the employee is entitled to reinstatement to his or her former job or to one substantially similar. Stipulation para. 7.
Employees on union leave are not paid by their employers. However, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreements, employees on union leave are provided with certain "fringe" benefits which the defendants now desire to discontinue. These benefits will be enumerated briefly. First, under the Bell Atlantic Pension Plan sponsored by defendant employers,
periods of union leave are not deducted from an employee's "term of employment." Stipulation para. 8. The greater an employee's "term of employment," the greater are his or her retirement benefits. Thus, an employee does not jeopardize future pension benefits by engaging in full-time union business.
Second, the collective bargaining agreements state that employees on union leave may receive death benefits, as established under the Bell Atlantic Pension Plan. Stipulation para. 8. Third, employees who anticipate an extended leave of absence, e.g., those absent on union business, are permitted to purchase medical, dental and vision insurance coverage by paying premiums to defendant employers. These premiums are set at rates which reflect defendants' cost based on the experience of the entire employee group; these premiums are lower than those calculated on a non-group basis. Stipulation para. 8. Fourth, defendant employers provide employees on union leave with basic group life insurance at no cost to the employee. Id. Lastly, employees on leave for union business receive a discount on certain charges for their personal telephone services. This discount is given to all employees of the defendants. Stipulation para. 10.
As already stated, defendant employers will soon discontinue all of the above benefits provided to employees on union leave under the terms of current collective bargaining agreements.
These union leave benefits have been included in collective bargaining agreements between the parties for decades and, in some instances, since the late 1940's. Stipulation paras. 2, 5. Plaintiff unions bring the instant actions seeking a declaratory judgment that the aforementioned union leave provisions are lawful and an order for defendants to comply with the provisions.
Section 302(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act makes it a criminal violation for an employer to "pay, lend, or deliver . . . any money or other thing of value . . . to any representative of any of his employees. . . or . . . to any labor organization, or any officer or employee thereof, which represents . . . any of the employees of such employer. . . ." 29 U.S.C. § 186(a).
At the heart of the dispute before the Court is one exemption to this provision. Section 302(c)(1) provides the first exception to the criminal conduct described in section 302(a):
The provisions of this section shall not be applicable (1) in respect to any money or other thing of value payable by an employer to any of his employees whose established duties include acting openly for such employer in matters of labor relations or personnel administration or to any representative of his employees, or to any officer or employee of a labor organization, who is also an employee or former employee of ...